noun, plural Catch-22's, Catch-22s.
THIS WORD OF THE DAY QUIZ IS HARDLY A DODDLE!
Origin of Catch-22
Words nearby Catch-22
What does Catch-22 mean?
Example: to get a certain job, you need work experience. But to get that work experience, you need to have had a job. It’s a Catch-22.
Where does Catch-22 come from?
Catch 22 comes from Joseph Heller’s 1961 classic novel, Catch-22, a satirical depiction of the American military bureaucracy in World War II. In it, Heller describes a military regulation, Catch-22, putting a pilot named Orr in an impossible situation:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to, but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
The word catch, here, is a “hidden difficulty” or “snag,” a sense dating back to the 1850s. The novel’s first chapter was published under Catch-18 in 1955, later changed to 22 to avoid confusion with another contemporaneous novel with 18 in its title.
The number 22 was chosen, apparently, because it’s the double of 11 (playing duality and duplication).
Since its publication, the influential Catch-22 has become part of the classics many of us read in school. The novel was notably adapted into a 1970 film by Mike Nichols. Since the 1970s, its central problem, the Catch-22 (often spelled without a hyphen and lowercase C), has become a common expression for any kind of a self-contradictory situation or unsolvable dilemma.
How is Catch-22 used in real life?
People like to use Catch 22 to describe situations that they feel are contradictory, sending mixed signals, or just unfair.
— Richard C. Schneider (@rc_schneider) June 25, 2018
Such contradictions are identified at Catch-22’s, in keeping with the term’s reference to a formal rule, in contemporary laws and regulations.
Catch-22. We are preventing families from lawfully requesting asylum at ports of entry while drafting a policy that doesn't allow people who enter between ports from getting asylum. Happening in a country comprised of asylum seekers from the world over. https://t.co/lyfBJ0uYAS
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) June 30, 2018
Catch 22 has also expanded to refer to any plight or problem more generally.
Becoming used to hyper-efficient/ high work loads is a catch 22 because when you have a moment to relax, you're feeling so incredibly restless
— Renée (@reneekapuku) June 28, 2018
The novel Catch-22 is often quoted or referenced because of its keen discussions of war, society, and bureaucracy.
More examples of Catch-22:
“Sounds like a complete Catch 22. You make a new claim and they put you through the mill or you wait to see what happens and they terminate what you have been entitled to and delay several weeks to intentionally put you into debt. Sadistic evil government.”
—@ghost36hop9, June 2018
“Federal funding represents a Catch-22 for local governments. Cash-strapped cities like Jackson need the money to help with billions of dollars in infrastructure needs…But cities that take federal dollars know their projects will be subject to numerous federal regulations that increase costs and stretch out completion times by months or years.”
—Anthony Warren, The Northside Sun, June 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for Catch-22
Yeah, those books: The Things They Carried, The Hunters, Catch-22.
It can result in a Catch-22 for ambitious upstarts: internships offer a foot in the door—but at what economic cost?Introducing Intern Magazine, Which Sparks Debate About Intern Culture|Misty White Sidell|July 30, 2013|DAILY BEAST
It is for sure a Catch-22, but who wants to be the person beating their head against the wall?Massachusetts Republicans Missing in Action in U.S. Senate Race|John Avlon|February 7, 2013|DAILY BEAST
I have to say, of all possible reactions to Catch-22, this is one that makes least sense to me.
At the Independent blog, John Rentoul replies to my book club entry on Catch-22.
British Dictionary definitions for Catch-22
Word Origin for catch-22
Cultural definitions for Catch-22
(1961) A war novel by the American author Joseph Heller. “Catch-22” is a provision in army regulations; it stipulates that a soldier's request to be relieved from active duty can be accepted only if he is mentally unfit to fight. Any soldier, however, who has the sense to ask to be spared the horrors of war is obviously mentally sound, and therefore must stay to fight.
notes for Catch-22
Idioms and Phrases with Catch-22
A no-win dilemma or paradox, similar to damned if I do, damned if I don't. For example, You can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience unless you have a job—it's Catch-22. The term gained currency as the title of a 1961 war novel by Joseph Heller, who referred to an Air Force rule whereby a pilot continuing to fly combat missions without asking for relief is regarded as insane, but is considered sane enough to continue flying if he does make such a request.